Churchgoers and supporters of religious freedom weren't too chicken to eat at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday.
Thanks to "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," the restaurant enjoyed one of the most successful days in its history, as people turned out in large numbers to "Eat Mor Chikin," in an effort to offset the gay activists who are boycotting the restaurant.
"We try to put our money where our mouth is," said Caroline Dana, who ate at the Chick-fil-A in Falls Church, along with her husband, Addison, and two children. "It's an important thing to support religious freedom."
For Chick-fil-A, the religious battle is just beginning, after President Dan Cathy last month came out in favor of traditional marriage, angering many who called the stance anti-gay and several big-city mayors who said they would use zoning and permit laws to keep the chicken franchise out of their cities.
But religious supporters pushed back by the thousands Wednesday, heeding a call by former Republican presidential-primary contender Mike Huckabee, who scheduled Wednesday as Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day via his Facebook account.
Across the country, as the word spread via social media, Chick-fil-A restaurants were packed and had lines of more than 100 people heading out the door, along the block and across the mall. Many of the customers had never eaten before at Chick-fil-A but turned out to support the restaurant both on the substance of its marriage stance and as the victim of bullying liberal politicians.
"Not being able to own a business because of your religious beliefs is a scary thing," Ms. Dana said.
Bob Fleming, 65, of Springfield, said Chick-fil-A is one of the few fast-food restaurants he regularly visits.
"The original owner raised his children to stand up for what they believe," he said. "I respect them for following through on their beliefs."
Carolyn Zolbe, 77, of Arlington, began eating at Chick-fil-A earlier this week, only after learning that the restaurant is entangled in the issue. She said she disagrees with the homosexual lifestyle, and supports Mr. Cathy for standing up for his beliefs.
"I hope people of faith who believe in traditional marriage will stick up for this fella when his business is threatened," she said.
Mr. Cathy's words supporting traditional marriage, along with the company's donations to many Christian organizations gay groups consider offensive, has angered many liberals, who now refuse to eat at the restaurant any more. Some activists are organizing boycotts, while others plan to participate in "National Same-Sex Kiss Day" at Chick-fil-A restaurants across the country Friday.
"It's unfortunate that this particular show of support reinforces discrimination," said Justin Nelson, founder and president of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
While Chick-fil-A noticed a boost in sales Wednesday, Mr. Nelson doesn't expect the momentum to last long.
"These people aren't going to eat at Chick-fil-A every day," he said. "The people who have been eating there that say, 'I'm no longer going to eat there,' that's what we're going to see."
As "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" spread across the country, Americans posted reports of long lines and camaraderie via social media and smart-phone cameras. A Chick-Fil-A mobile unit "Chikin Travelz Well" saw a block-long line near the Metro Center subway in downtown Washington. At the Chick-Fil-A in Landmark Mall in Alexandria, there were almost 100 people in line around noon, with the queue stretching across the width of the otherwise nearly-deserted food court.
Bruce Carroll, a popular conservative gay blogger, said he went to a restaurant near Fort Mill, S.C., around 2 p.m., but "it was too crowded to get in."
Just before 8 p.m., Mr. Carroll and his partner John Ciccone went to a Charlotte, N.C., Chick-fil-A for dinner instead, and Mr. Carroll posted a picture of a half-eaten sandwich with the comment "the sweet taste of freedom."
He later snarkily noted: "This was a difficult accomplishment, but the lines at @ChikFilA were longer than Obama-induced unemployment lines."
Pennsylvania software developer Sean McCune posted several photos to his Twitter account and later to his blog of his local Chick-Fil-A in Cranberry Township, Pa., with lines going out the door and standing room only inside the restaurant.
Tabitha Hale, new media director for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, said she stopped at a Hermitage, Tenn., Chick-Fil-A around 9:30 a.m. on the way to Nashville Airport, only to find the drive-in queue so long that she decided to go into the restaurant instead.
Once inside, she learned the restaurant already was serving the lunch menu. According to her Twitter feed, a worker told her: "we ran out of breakfast. It's been a crazy morning."
Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the popular blog Red State and a conservative commentator for CNN, had an even "worse" experience.
"Went to Chick-Fil-A for breakfast. The crowd was so big I gave up," he wrote on Twitter.
New Jersey Web developer Steven Greydanus went to a Chick-Fil-A in Paramus, N.J., and said that there were waits of 30 minutes just to get ordered food, that the extra staff was “overwhelmed” and that the manager was “handing out coupons,” though he added that people seemed to be in a good mood.
"When I told people at the end of the line" as he was leaving, "that there were over 100 people ahead of them on line, they CHEERED," said Mr. Greydanus, who also is a film critic for the National Catholic Register.
That wasn't the first Jersey cheer.
"So this ChickFilA employee walks out into the food court into the middle of the line and cheers the crowd — and they cheer back," Mr. Greydanus earlier said.
Many gay activists have labeled Mr. Cathy as a close-minded bigot, but Christians point out that while he supports traditional marriage, that doesn't make him anti-gay.
They are disappointed that liberals call for tolerance of progressive beliefs, but don't show that same tolerance for conservative values.
"I think tolerance has now turned into being tolerant of the left's beliefs, but if you (don't agree) with the left's beliefs, then you're a hater," Ms. Dana said.
Ms. Zolbe said she believes her church is tolerant, because even though it opposes the homosexual lifestyle, they welcome gays to worship with them.
"What you see here at this table is love," she said. "I love all. I don't love the sin, oh, but I love the sinner. God bless them."
"My church welcomes everyone," she added. "We don't approve of homosexual behavior, but we still accept them into the church. God wants them there. They're precious in his eyes."
• Victor Morton contributed to this report.
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